In a seemingly spasmodic move which observers argue reflects a growing “legitimacy crisis” facing some Arab Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group.
And in a subsequent step, the three absolute monarchies also withdrew their respective ambassadors from Qatar for allegedly supporting the same Islamic group and also for refusing to rein in the pan-Arab network, al-Jazeera.
Conservative Gulf states and other authoritarian regimes in the Arab world blamed the Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV for inciting Arab masses to revolt against them in what became to be known as the “Arab spring.”
The three Gulf entities didn’t give any convincing reason for outlawing the MB. However, the main reason behind the rash decision seems to center on the threat posed by the MB ideology to the dynastic, patriarchal order throughout the region.
The MB is probably the most authentic and also most moderate Sunni Islamic movement in the world today. It rejects violence and terror and is considered, along with some Salafist groups, the main line of defense against a perceived Shiite onslaught aimed at spreading Shiism in the Arab world. The MB also spearheaded the cultural-intellectual fight against the strong socialist and communist propaganda in the Arab world in 1950s and 1960s.
But the MB also rejects the dynastic hereditary order upon which Gulf regimes are generally based. It preaches a type of Islamic polity based on Shura or consultative democracy that is consistent with the rules of the Quran.
Interestingly, the three Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia, claim to be conducting their affairs in accordance with Islam. However, most Muslims don’t take this claim seriously. Indeed, independent-minded Muslim scholars leave no doubt as to the incompatibility and utter contradiction between Islam, which is by no means a family affair, and the dynastic despotism practiced in these quasi-feudalistic states.
In Islam, every Muslim has the right to contest the leadership of the Muslim community if freely and fairly chosen by the people. However, according to the hereditary system in these states, the ruler has to come from the “ruling family.” Moreover, his decisions can’t be challenged or even criticized neither by the masses nor by an elected parliament. Democracy, whether Islamic or otherwise, is anathema for the Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini rulers.
The regimes’ lack of Islamic credentials doesn’t stop there. In Saudi Arabia, many of the policies and practices of the Saudi state have been quite anti-Islamic. Even today, filthy-rich Saudi Emirs control large swathes of land in the vast kingdom, with each emir having his own fief. The Emirs receive hefty salaries from cradle to grave.
Needless to say, these privileges have absolutely nothing to do with the religion of Islam.
Saudi Arabia, which has a religious police apparatus tasked with upholding Islamic morality, is often criticized for its hypocrisy and moral duplicity.
For example, King Abdullah’s nephew Prince al-Walid ibn Talal owns a network of satellite TV stations that actively promote permissiveness and moral laxities. Some of these stations openly encourage promiscuity while discouraging Islamic commitment.
When Saudi officials are reminded of these facts, they often resort to silence or try to change the subject.
Islam, true Islam, rejects corruption, nepotism, favoritism, and tyranny as well as excessive consumerism as well as despotism. But these vices whether we like it or not, constitute the essence of the political polity in Saudi Arabia.
The UAE fares even worse. It is said that that Dubai, for example, has effectively become the capital of prostitution in western Asia. This happens in a state which also claims to be adopting Sharia as the Law of the Land.
In truth, corruption and decadence permeate every aspect of public life in these Emirates.
The Gulf regimes, probably with the lone exception of Qatar, were overwhelmed with nervousness and anxiety when political turbulence started in Tunisia in 2011 followed by Egypt, Libya and Yemen. The monarchs and sheikhs of these states reasoned that “Today is Husni Mubarak and Zeinul Abedin bin Ali…tomorrow it will be us.”
This explains the hasty (and costly) embrace by SA and UAE of the military coup in Egypt, a manifestly thuggish regime that lacks any true Islamic legitimacy.
But the Saudi and Emirati embrace of the Sisi junta is not based on mutual love. The Sisi regime, along with its liberal, secular and Christian Coptic supporters, hate Saudi conservatism with utter contempt. Indeed, for the anti-Islamist camp in Egypt, Saudi Arabia spells backwardness, primitiveness and even darkness.
The Saudis know this too well. However, the Saudis also know that no other political or religious ideology, apart from the Islamic ideology of the MB, poses a greater threat to the longevity and continuity in power of the House of Saud. This means the House of Saud can have an amicable modus vivendi with every conceivable foe, including the secularists, the liberals, and even the Shiites, but not with true Sunni Islamists determined to implement “the Sharia of Allah.”
These people are unlikely to be bought with money or co-opted with the promise of inclusion to the circle of power, as is often the case with the secular and liberal opponents of the regimes.
Hence, the Saudi embrace of the Sisi regime.
It is well known that the raison d’être of the MB is to reinstitute the political authority of Islam, in the form of reviving the Islamic caliphate.
But the appearance of an Islamic caliphate, however symbolic unstable that entity might be, would likely expose the utter “illegitimacy” and “bankruptcy” of these dynastic entities.
This is what the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates dread most.
In the final analysis, a true Islamic authority would compel the often ignorant emirs and kings of these countries not only to give up arrogated power, but would also hold them accountable for every penny they have stolen from the masses. That is the ultimate nightmarish scenario for Saudi and Emirati rulers.
The MB wants to revive the Islamic Umma whereas the tribal chiefs of these Gulf States want to maintain the glory of the tribe at all costs. Needless to say, the two tasks are irreconcilable.